As Congress and the Obama administration seek ways to reduce the nation's rising budget deficit, several plans have been put forth that would jeopardize the health of millions of older Americans by drastically changing Medicare. We cannot allow this to happen.
Let me make our position clear:
- The nation's budget deficit and long-term debt require attention. AARP supports balanced policies that are essential to meeting the nation's long-term fiscal challenges.
- Medicare must meet the needs of 21st-century America. But the goal should be to strengthen Medicare, not to harm it.
- Most importantly, the Medicare debate first and foremost should be about people, not about numbers.
- Rather than ask, "How can we cut Medicare to reduce the deficit?" we should be asking, "How do we strengthen it for tomorrow's challenges while containing costs to keep it affordable?"
Medicare is more than a line item in the federal budget. It is a program that provides health security for real people — more than 47 million of them. Changing the guaranteed structure of Medicare and replacing it with a system in which individuals would buy coverage from private insurance plans, with only a diminishing portion of the premium covered by Medicare, would put the health of millions of older Americans at risk. This is not cost control. This is simply shifting the vast majority of rising costs to older Americans while reneging on Medicare's promise of secure health coverage.
Several proposals would arbitrarily cap the annual growth of Medicare spending and turn Medicare into a "premium support" or voucher system. Current Medicare beneficiaries could experience higher costs and reduced care from the across-the-board spending cuts that would likely result from enforcing these caps. And according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, under the plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., future beneficiaries (those turning 65 in 2022) would see the cost of their premiums and coinsurance more than double in 2022, from about $5,500 today to $12,500.
We supported the Affordable Care Act of 2010 because it contained many measures to expand the availability of health care, improve its delivery, encourage preventive care, cut drug prices and slow the growth of Medicare costs without jeopardizing the guaranteed benefits essential for long-term health security. More must be done to improve Medicare for the 21st century. We must find efficiencies, fix the physician payment problem, and modernize and coordinate the delivery of care.
Ultimately, the question we have to ask ourselves is: "What kind of country do we want to be?" I believe we want to be a country that keeps its commitments to its citizens, that recognizes the value of a lifetime of hard work, that puts the care and well-being of its people above all else, and that makes it possible for all people to achieve the American dream.
That's what's at stake in this debate. We need you to weigh in. We urge you to contact your elected officials. Let them know where you stand.